Mavericks beat Pelicans in Nerlens Noel’s debut
DALLAS (AP) — With a new teammate 16 years his junior, Dirk Nowitzki played like he, too, was young again.
Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds and Harrison Barnes scored 19 as the Dallas Mavericks won in Nerlens Noel’s debut with the team, 96-83 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night.
Noel, acquired at the trade deadline from Philadelphia, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds while playing steady defense against Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the low post. Noel punctuated his performance with an uncontested dunk in the final 30 seconds off a stolen inbounds pass.
Davis finished with 39 points and 14 rebounds, but scored just 12 after halftime. Cousins, who sat out a long stretch of the first half with foul trouble, added 12 points and 15 rebounds.
When he wasn’t frustrating the New Orleans big men, Noel provided an inside presence on the offensive end that helped free Nowitzki for outside jumpers — and the veteran forward delivered an 8-for-12 shooting performance.
“I’ve been watching Dirk for years,” Noel said. “I know what he does. Obviously father time is there so he needs a little bit more space, so I set some flares to get him open and get him in good situations.”
Noel talked about a lack of veteran role models on a young 76ers squad. Now he has a locker next to the NBA’s sixth-leading all-time scorer, who was just as appreciative to have Noel on the court with him.
“It just opens stuff up on the perimeter,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got good shooters, and if you have a lob threat, the defense has got to suck in. He opened up a few shots for me today.”
The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for Cousins, who said the early foul trouble affected him.
“I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been after I committed the third one,” Cousins said. “My teammates and coaches were talking to me. I didn’t respond the way I should. I believe I became passive after that.”
Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that.
TOO MANY MISTAKES
The Pelicans committed 20 turnovers that resulted in 22 Dallas points. It was their second straight game with 20 turnovers as they work to integrate Cousins into the offense alongside Davis and point guard Jrue Holiday.
“We are not going to be able to go anywhere until we solve the turnover thing,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “The turnovers were bad decisions. It doesn’t have anything to do with us not coming together. A lot of them were unforced.”
The Pelicans also shot just 5 for 24 on 3s, and Davis and Cousins combined to shoot 8 for 17 from the free throw line.
And despite scoring 18 points, Holiday committed a crucial mistake at the end of the third quarter, fouling Barnes on a desperation heave some 60 feet from the basket. Barnes hit all three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in the period for a 67-63 Dallas lead.
Noel made his Mavericks debut at the 6:57 mark of the first quarter to a loud ovation. He met with the media prior to the game, calling his trade “a very fresh start that probably was needed.”
“I had a tough few years in Philly but I think it made me stronger in a lot of ways, mentally and physically,” Noel said. “It isn’t easy but when you come out of it, you feel proud for yourself for how you handled it.”
Of the Mavericks, Noel said: “It’s a competitive team, starting with (owner) Mark Cuban. He brings a lot of competitiveness into the organization. This is a team that wants to get back to the promised land, competing for championships.”
Pelicans: New Orleans played without starting shooting guard E’Twaun Moore (personal reasons) and backup center Omer Asik (illness). … Davis played his 315th game with the franchise, tying P.J. Brown for third all-time behind David West (530) and Chris Paul (425).
Mavericks: Curry, who scored a career-high 31 points Friday night, has averaged more than 15 points per game since becoming a starter on Jan. 12. The Mavs are 12-8 in those games. If Noel moves to starting center as expected, Curry will likely come off the bench again. … Dallas won for just the second time in 12 tries on the second half of back-to-back games.
Pelicans: At Oklahoma City on Sunday for their final matchup with the Thunder, who have beaten New Orleans in all three meetings this season.
Mavericks: Host Miami on Monday, the second game of a stretch in which Dallas plays seven of eight at home.